PARIS (Reuters) - French anti-terrorism judges interrogated for the first time on Monday the brother of an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people in March, including three Jewish children, to determine his involvement in the spate of bloody attacks.
Abdelkader Merah, whose lawyer said he planned to request his release from custody, has been kept in jail since March while under investigation on suspicion of complicity in terrorism, murder and theft.
He is the only suspect in custody for an alleged role in the killings admitted by his younger brother Mohamed Merah, who died in a hail of police bullets six months ago jumping through the window of an apartment in southwestern France after a 30-hour siege.
"We discussed his religious commitment. It's radical Islamism but that doesn't make him a criminal," Abdelkader Merah's lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, told Reuters television.
The three separate attacks by the Algerian-born Mohamed Merah in and around the southern city of Toulouse - which also took the lives of three soldiers and a rabbi - shocked the country and raised uncomfortable questions about race relations in France and possible intelligence failures.
The anti-terrorism judges want to know if the elder Merah, 29, gave logistical support to his younger brother, including whether he helped steal a powerful Yamaha scooter used as the getaway vehicle in the killings.
A police source told Reuters in March that the suspect had admitted helping steal the scooter without realizing how it would be used.
Abdelkader was previously known to security services for helping smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007.
Described by people who know him as a more overtly devout Muslim than his younger brother, Abdelkader was believed to have exerted a strong influence on Mohamed in the years following their father's departure to Algeria in 2006 or 2007.
Mohamed Merah told police negotiators before his demise that he had carried out the attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and protest against the French army's role in Afghanistan. He said he regretted there were not more victims.
After the arrest and launch of a formal investigation against Abdelkader, his then-lawyer said her client feared he would be the scapegoat for the Toulouse rampage after the death of his brother.
(Reporting By Pauline Mevel; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Michael Roddy)